What does God look like?
The other night, I’m helping my 5 year old to brush her teeth and she asks ‘Does God have teeth, Mum?’
“What do you think, sweetheart?” I reply, intrigued.
“I think He does.” She says, matter-of-factly. Then she spits, rinses and goes off to her bedroom.
What an odd question! But as she is only 5 and she’s been testing my God for Kids app, switching between concepts of God’s Love and God’s teeth is perfectly natural for her. Apparently, kids often want to talk about what God looks like before they talk about less tangible characteristics like God Loves or God is Big (at least, according to Steve Hutchinson in his fabulous Scripture Union resource book ‘So, Why God?’).
But since no one has actually ever seen God (it says so in the Bible, John 1:18) how would you answer that question?
When my app, God for Kids, first launched in the App Store it had the embarrassingly awful bug, (a leftover discarded from an earlier edition), that insisted God looks like a …. Well I won’t tell you what it insisted God looks like. It’s too embarrassing. If you don’t know, it will remain a little-known geek fact for die hard, original fans of the app.
So what does God look like and does it really matter?
There are plenty of Bible verses that talk about God walking, God seeing, God listening with His ear, God creating with his hands and winning victory with his arm. When you look at these verses you may notice how descriptive they are – they are not being used to tell us what God looks like but what God’s character is like. That God walks with us in friendship, He sees us when we are in need, He listens to our requests, He created us, He provides for us and He wins the victory for us against any and all difficulties that we face.
So does that mean these descriptions of God’s body parts are metaphorical? Just imagery to help us understand something deeper? Yes, but are they only metaphorical? What about the times in the Bible when people saw God, like when Moses saw God’s back as He passed by on the mountain top (Exodus 33:18-23)? Or the fourth man in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego (Daniel 3:25)? Most would say, that those men (and Elijah and Isaiah who had similar experiences) actually saw God the Son in that moment, not God the Father. A kind of early visit from Jesus, before He was born.
This is, of course, perfectly possible because while Jesus was born on a specific day in time, we know He did not begin to exist on that day – Jesus is Forever and has existed forever, just like the Father and the Holy Spirit, because they are One (John 1:1-2).
But then it gets a little confusing because when God passed Moses by on the mountain He told Moses that ‘No one shall see my face and live.‘ but plenty of people saw the face of Jesus and lived so what face was He talking about? Does God the Father have a literal face, other than the face of Jesus?
There is one Bible verse, that convinces me to think that references to God’s physical stature are more than just metaphorical. When God decided to create human beings he said ‘Let us make them in Our image, according to Our likeness.‘ Two separate words were used here and each have a slightly different meaning. The original Hebrew words used were demut and selem (although that’s not how they are usually written because Hebrew has its own alphabet). The first word means inner nature and the second word is the root of a modern Hebrew word that means ‘photograph’ which suggests outer appearance – looks. We are created in God’s image and likeness. Does that mean both looks and personality? Did Jesus already have a shape with arms an legs and a face, even before He was born, as suggested by all the early visits from Him in the Old Testament?
Perhaps, or perhaps that’s not the point.
So does God have teeth?
I could have laid out all of this for my 5 year old, explaining what deeper thinkers and more educated scholars have thrashed out for centuries but of course, that’s would be utterly pointless. Because for my 5 year old, brushing her teeth, she just wants to know a little more about this invisible God. She is trying to make huge concepts like ‘God is Big’ and ‘God is Strong’ and ‘God is Kind’ and ‘God Loves’ into something that matters to her here and now. Something she can understand.
There is a very good reason why I did not say ‘Yes, child, if it helps you to believe that God has teeth then you go ahead and believe it.”
In Chapter 8 of ‘The Story Girl’ by Lucy Maud Montgomery (who also wrote the Anne of Green Gables collection), the children in the story find what they are told is ‘A Picture of God.’ The picture is awful – it depicts a very angry, bearded man having a temper tantrum. It was so counter intuitive to the children’s own understanding of God that even though they refuse to believe it and the local minister convinces them that no one can know what God looks like:
"The mischief was done. From that day to this, the thought or the mention of God brings up before us involuntarily the vision of a stern, angry old man.”
The author writes with such insight, you can’t help wondering if this experience is one she had as a child?
There are good reasons God warns us never to make an image of God – not even an image in our minds (Exodus 20:4). Firstly because there is not a single image, painting, picture, sculpture or carving that can even begin to represent the awesome, wonderful, holiness of the almighty, Creator God. Whatever we draw, paint, sculpt or imagine, it will focus on some of God’s characteristics and forget the others – before we know it we have created an image of God based on our own likeness (the opposite of God creating us in His likeness). That is what is known in the Bible as an idol. And even today, we are too easily inclined to worship the idol of the God of our own image or imagination.
So as I followed my 5-year-old into her bedroom, what did I say? What can any parent say? Here are four possible responses I can suggest. Can you suggest any others?
What Does God Look Like? No One Knows for Sure
First of all, as already mentioned, the Bible tells us that no one has ever seen God (John 1:18). That means, no one knows for sure what He looks like. God is Invisible.
What Does God Look Like? The Best Picture we have is Jesus
The rest of that John 1:18 Bible verse says “But God the only Son is very close to the Father. And the Son has shown us what God is like.”
What an amazing truth! What does God look like? Jesus came to show us. No one has ever seen God the Father but lots of people have seen Jesus and Jesus came to show us what the Father is like. The Garden Adventure of God for Kids app explores more about Jesus.
The funny thing is, even though God is as amazing as the stars and skies (Psalm 19:1), Jesus wasn’t especially good looking on the outside (Isaiah 53:2). But there was something very attractive about Him on the inside – so attractive that thousands of people would crowd around and follow Him (John 6)! So even though Jesus came to show us what God is like, He was more interested in showing what God was really like, on the inside. This leads to my next response.
What Does God Look Like? Inside matters more than outside
While I love to tell my children how beautiful they are on the outside, as parents, we know it is even more important to nurture their beauty within. That means their character. So to be honest, it doesn’t matter too much what God looks like on the outside, what matters most is that we can be sure God has a heart that is full of love for us (John 3:16). He has ears to hear us when we pray (Psalm 6:9). We know He has eyes that see us when we are in pain (Genesis 16:13). We know His hands have created us and all the world (Psalm 8:3) , His arms carry us (Isaiah 40:11) and He walks with us day by day (2 Corinthians 6:16).
What Does God Look Like? One day we will know for sure
Finally, there is a hope that one day we will know. The Bible says that one day we will see God face to face, clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12, Revelation 22:4). So, (if my 5 year old is still listening to me at this point!) I might say: if you really want to know if God has eyes, ears, hands, arms, legs and heart, believe in His Son Jesus and one day you will find out for sure (John 3:16).
For now, simply allow the love in God’s heart to fill your heart by the power of His Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). And we will find out more about Him in the Underwater Adventure!